A western Minnesota teenager who had been missing for nearly a month was the victim of a kidnapping by three men and subjected to sexual assault and other abuse for weeks before she swam to freedom, police said Wednesday.
On the same day that the Alexandria teen escaped, three men were arrested Tuesday in connection with the alleged abduction of the 15-year-old in early August. Two of the suspects are roommates from Carlos, Minn., ages 32 and 31. The third is 20 and from Mankato. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged, nor does it name victims of sexual assaults.
“After 29 harrowing days, [the girl] is safe and has been reunited with her family,” Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said Wednesday. He revealed many of the details at an afternoon news conference, including how the teen and a farmer from whom she sought help helped with the arrests.
Tuesday night, the girl’s mother posted a photo on Facebook of herself next to her smiling daughter — the teen’s hair wet as the pair were reunited. Otherwise, the family is asking for privacy for now.
Soon after the teen disappeared, police and family members widely publicized her disappearance through the news media, on missing-persons websites and on social media. A $7,000 reward was offered.
“I can’t stop looking at this picture,” a relative wrote in a comment below the photo of the reunited mother and daughter.
“I’ve prayed to see this sight. For whatever reason, I felt more angry this morning than I had felt at any other time in the last month. Then to hear you were found ... it was the highest of highs on what started as one of the lowest days of my life. Welcome home, Hon! Cant wait to hug you!”
At the news conference, which was posted on Facebook, the chief responded to a reporter’s question and said the teen was “both physically assaulted and sexually assaulted.”
Arresting the suspects
Not only did the teen escape her captors, she quickly played a vital role in their capture, the chief said.
“[She] escapes, runs to a farmer’s location and he takes her into the security of his vehicle,” Wyffels began. “Fearing for his own safety,” he starts driving her to Elbow Lake, the chief continued.
It was while en route to that town that she spotted the 20-year-old suspect in a moving vehicle. Law enforcement officers arrived and arrested the youngest of the three suspects.
Wyffels said a statewide alert was put out for the other two suspects. A state trooper spotted their vehicle in Glenwood, and they were arrested at a home there.
Because of the publicity campaign surrounding the teen’s disappearance, Wyffels said, the farmer was “able to name her before she was able to say any words because he knew what this story was all about. It’s just a perfect example of what it’s like to be transparent … to work with [the news media] to share this information.”
She was ‘tricked’
The chief began his news conference explaining how the alleged abduction unfolded and its aftermath:
The 32-year-old suspect knew the girl as a family acquaintance and approached her outside her home in the 200 block of McKay Avenue N. around 11 p.m. on Aug. 8 and “tricked her” by saying he needed help with a family situation, which Wyffels did not detail.
She agreed and got in his vehicle, and they drove to his mobile home.
There her nightmare began, the chief said, adding that “no one has stated why they targeted her specifically.”
The man bound her with zip ties, repeatedly assaulted her and threatened her with weapons.
The 31-year-old also assaulted her, as did the 20-year-old, who arrived about two weeks into the abduction.
These assaults continued over the several weeks she was being held, “oftentimes in a closet” in the roommates’ mobile home or in another secure area of the residence, the chief said.
They provided her meals, such as Taco Bell and other fast food.
The dash to safety
Late last week, the men moved the teen from the residence “to various locations, including a cornfield and a foreclosed property in Grant County,” Wyffels said.
On Tuesday, the three went to a nearby town for lunch and left the girl alone for the first time in 29 days.
She “bravely ran from door to door of nearby properties trying to find someone to help,” the chief said.
She then swam across a portion of Thompson Lake in Grant County to a residential area, where she found the farmer who helped her.
Police said their investigation still has many details to uncover, including attempting to identify specific cornfields that the suspects drove through with their prisoner.
They also are hoping to locate the teen’s shoes and pants, which were lost in the lake.
In addition, investigators are asking farmers in Pope, Grant and Douglas counties to check their cornfields for damage associated with vehicles driving through them, and for anglers at the lake to report the discovery of any clothing.